King of the Monsters

King_of_the_Monsters

King of the Monsters (1991)
By: SNK Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: SNK Neo Geo MVS First Day Score: 47,640
Also Available For: Neo Geo AES, MegaDrive, SNES
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

King of the Monsters

The Neo Geo has gained a great deal of fame and adulation over the years for a variety of reasons but much of this has come from fans of its many one-on-one fighting games. The flagship series must surely be King of Fighters, but fighters are not the only thing it’s possible to be king of! All these human-based games are all very well but even the most creative minds can only do so much with our soft, fleshy, watery bodies. What we need is for someone to open their mind to the possibilities that other beings could bring to the genre. No, I’m not talking about robots, I think we’ve had just about enough of those metallic buffoons clanging into each other (eeek!). Something with the unpredictability of nature is still required I think, but a good helping of muscles, fangs, and a bit of primeval ferocity wouldn’t hurt either. Sounds like a job for the Japanese…
King_of_the_Monsters

The result is clearly inspired by Japan’s preoccupation with giant monsters and hideous creatures of various descriptions, known as ‘kaiju’, and is set in six cities around said country. Each city is home to a combat arena which is… the city itself! Due to the probably-radiation-assisted size of the monsters, they face off in city streets surrounded by appropriate buildings and other landmarks. Well, I’ve presumed they’re appropriate but I can’t say I’ve spent too much time in the cities in question. The action is viewed from a 3D overhead perspective meaning the monsters can move in all directions around the arenas which are encircled by an electrical barrier. Almost everything within the sizeable perimeter can be and usually is destroyed though – more often than not each city starts out all lovely and pristine and ends up looking more like a debris-strewn warzone!
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The titanic battles take the form of wrestling matches which, to quote good old Mene Gene, are ‘scheduled for one fall’ and are contested by six monsters – Geon (a Godzilla-like dinosaur), Woo (a blue King Kong-like ape), Poison Ghost (a creature made of toxic waste like Hydorah), Rocky (who is… umm… a rocky creature), Beetle Mania (a large Megalon-like beetle), and Astro Guy (a courageous Ultraman-like superhero). Any of them can be selected and all are fought twice (including your own character) before the game is finished. Their repertoire of moves doesn’t vary much from one to another, although they do have special moves of course, and they’re also taken from the world of wrestling which means many suplexes, throws, gorilla presses, DDT’s, pile-drivers, and some close-quarters grappling and even biting! It’s possible to pin your opponent (in some humiliating ways, obviously – see blue ape oaf below) any time you knock them down but it’s probably best to beat the crap out of them sufficiently first. If they’re weak enough, your ‘cover’ may result in a three-count and victory.
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And that’s pretty much it! One-on-one fighting games have become rather convoluted in recent years in my opinion but King of the Monsters is the opposite. Is that a good thing? Well, it could certainly do with having a bit more to it – some additional fighters at least, and perhaps also the ability to use the surrounding buildings as weapons – but its simplicity also works in its favour in some ways. The graphics and music are quite pleasing for an early Neo Geo title too. The tunes have an air of disaster about them and the monsters all screech/roar appropriately enough. They are also just the right size have some nice animations, and the attention to detail on the cities is superb. In classic B-movie style, the players are attacked by various human vehicles like tanks and boats during play and these can be picked up and thrown. Control of your chosen monster seems pretty good for the most part. Each has two attack buttons and a run button, although it often seems a bit hit and miss as to whether a strike/move is effective or not, but each one needs to count as your character is not restored to full power for the next match which can mean a very rapid defeat.
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And therein lies both the appeal and problem with King of the Monsters. It’s simple, even for a fighting game, and is very much an arcade game in the traditional sense – it provides a lot of fun and laughs in five or ten minute bursts but little beyond that. That’s to be expected of an arcade game but the Neo Geo home versions haven’t been enhanced in any way and the MegaDrive and SNES conversions even lose two characters! It certainly is an appealing game though, initially at least, and that appeal is heightened when a second player is added who, splendidly, you can choose to either fight against or alongside you against two CPU monsters! You’ll also likely find much to appreciate here if you’re a fan of the old Japanese films from which the game takes its inspiration. If giant rubbery monsters don’t do it for you though, you’ll probably lose interest fairly quickly. It’s a fantastic premise with some great ideas and there are few fighting games like it, I just wish there was a bit more to it.

RKS Score: 7/10

Metal Slug 3

metal slug 3

Metal Slug 3 is at first deceptively slow but by no means easy. Certain levels have multiple paths you can take, affecting your mid-stage gameplay, though both paths lead to the same boss. Blasting through hoards of puking zombies makes the second mission particularly charming . If they land a hit you’re transformed into a slow-moving zombie yourself, reminiscent of the mummy affliction from MS2/X. Unlike the mummy, there is a definite upside to the zombie state. You maintain the use of your handgun and in lieu of bombs possess a graphic blood-vomit attack that spans the majority of the screen. Your movement is significantly affected however, so it isn’t prudent to intentionally afflict yourself with the zombie status…at least more than once.

metal slug 3
The third mission begins in a janky underwater area and the entire stage exemplifies the initial slow pace of MS3 in comparison to other titles in the series. The third mission’s boss is very easy and very generic, which does nothing to prepare you for the little stage of horrors that is the fourth mission. Our zombie friends are back, newly equipped with their own blood-vomit attack, along with Audrey-esque cannibalistic plants. This stage is hard, bloody, and will leave you begging for more.

Many people say Metal Slug 3 is the best game in the series, and I’d bet this is because of the final mission. Your initial character is kidnapped and you are automatically given the next in line from the Player Select Screen. You begin the stage in a vertical shmup setting, flying through asteroids and gunning down aliens. The 5th mission is the longest, most satisfying orgy of missiles and explosions this side of DoDonPachi. This stage feels like real Metal Slug with its fast-moving and detailed landscapes. Overall, MS3 epitomizes quarter-munching arcade fun, if you’re patient enough to hang on past the build-up of the first few levels.

Neo Drift Out

Neo Drift Out (1996)
By: Visco Corp  Genre: Overhead Racing  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: SNK Neo Geo MVS
Also Available For: Neo Geo AES & CD, Arcade (variation)

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

From around the early to mid-90’s the stagnating genre of overhead racing games suddenly saw something of a revival when lots of rally-based variations started appearing. Many companies made offerings but credit for this sub-genre can largely be given to Visco Corp. Their 1991 game, Drift Out, though frustrating and tricky to play, was one of the first games of this type and swapped the traditional overhead racing game viewpoint for a zoomed-in perspective which allowed for much more detail and longer, more complex courses. It wasn’t hugely successful but sufficiently so to give rise to two sequels. The first of these had the superb idea of shifting the viewpoint further still to an angled-overhead perspective and the game was much better as a result but it still had its problems. I’m hoping this sequel, using Neo Geo hardware, would attend to them.

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

One of the additions Drift Out 94 made to the original game was the inclusion of an official license for the available cars. While this game retains that license it unfortunately has fewer cars to choose from with your options being limited to the good old Evo, Impreza, and Celica. Each of them differs with regards to their speed, control, and body but it doesn’t really make a dramatic difference which one you go for. After you’ve selected a car you’ll get a short practise stage to race on before beginning the game proper. There are six courses in all – European, African, Snow, Southern Hemisphere, Scandinavia, and Great Britain – and they’re set over the kind of terrains you might expect to find – tarmac, gravel, dirt, snow/ice, and sand.

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

As with the prequel, each course has to be completed within a pretty strict time limit in order to qualify for the next one and they are arguably more testing than before too with regard to the sheer frequency of harsh corners. It seems every other turn here is a hairpin, right-angle, or chicane, and there are numerous short-cuts and obstacles as well. For example, the snow stage features slippy ice patches and course-encroaching snow drifts! Fortunately your car is more than sufficient for power-sliding around most of them, but impact with any obstacles or trackside objects knocks it around costing you speed and therefore time. Luckily nothing effects it too severely though. Much like real rallying, you’re racing against the clock rather than other cars directly but it is possible to catch up other racers (or be overtaken) if you’re good (or bad) enough!

Neo Drift Out - Gameplay Screenshot

The first Drift Out was fairly innovative for its time but it did have pretty frustrating gameplay. Luckily Drift Out ’94 did a lot to improve the basic formula of its predecessor but both were memory tests, and that remains the case with this Neo Geo update. That’s about all it is too, really – an update. Graphically things haven’t changed much, for one thing. In fact, I think I’d even say that the last game has slightly superior visuals to this one but there’s really not much in it. The previous game has a little more detail in its scenery but this game is noticeably faster which actually doesn’t make it more difficult, surprisingly, since the course designs here are a little more straightforward. The short cuts add some variety to each race too, but the accompanying music and sound effects are nothing special once again. Neo Drift Out is basically a faster version of Drift Out ’94 with less cars but different, and slightly less-confusing course designs, which basically means it rectifies none of its predecessors faults but creates no more either. It’s great fun though and is probably the most playable of the three Drift Out games, but not by enough to get an extra point!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d50YE00hO98[/youtube]

Robo Army

Robot Army - SNK - Gameplay Screenshot

Robo Army (1991)
By: SNK  Genre: Scrolling Fighting  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: SNK Neo Geo MVS First Day Score: 10,500
Also Available For: Neo Geo AES & CD

Ask most people what kind of game they associate with the mighty Neo Geo and most will undoubtedly say one-on-one fighting games. This is understandable since the machine is positively flooded by games of this type, and mostly good ones too, but what of scrolling fighting games? Well, unknown by me until recently, there is one that goes back just about as far as the Neo Geo itself does! The moment of revelation for me came at the recent R3Play Gaming Expo in Blackpool where my friend Rich and I discovered the only AES at the show was running a game of the type in question. So, I’d discovered its existence, but the fighting game pedigree of the host console gave it a lot to live up to. Is the system as adept at the scrolling variety of fighting games?
Robot Army - SNK - Gameplay Screenshot

The first thing I noticed about Robo Army, which shouldn’t have been surprising given its name, is that there’s nary a Human in sight! Apparently a ‘mad scientist’ has decided to create an army of robots to destroy the city, capture all the citizens, and use their brains for more robots to take over the world. The fact that the only Human’s in the game seem to be scantily-clad girlies in prison would seem to suggest he’s been at least partially successful too. Eeek! All is not lost though, as you and a friend can help to save these girlies, and indeed the rest of mankind, by assuming control of a pair of cybernetic soldiers, Maxima and Captain Rocky, and punching the crap out of all the stupid robots that stand between you and the ‘mad scientist’!
Robot Army - SNK - Gameplay Screenshot

The distance in question spans six ‘areas’ and includes such locales as a jungle, city streets, a factory, and of course the main enemy stronghold. Populating all of these areas are robots of various kinds comprising the ‘army’ of the title. Some of them are mere drones but there are several special kinds too, including mid-bosses, and even some robotic birds and dogs and other animals. Progression to the next area is guarded by a robotic boss, often a larger version of one of the animal robots. The heroic soldiers have a few attack moves to see off the invading hordes though, including punches, reverse kicks and flying kicks, and they can pick up things to throw at their attackers such as barrels and even vehicles! They can use the limbs of defeated robots as clubs too, and there are also power-up icons to be found periodically. Most of these build up your ‘special attack’ power (which damages or destroys all on-screen enemies) but there’s another which transforms you into an invincible armoured car for a short while!
Robot Army - SNK - Gameplay Screenshot

Aside from the awful title screen (see above!), the presentation and graphics are pretty decent here for an early Neo Geo game. There are some cut-scenes between levels (which I’m afraid I can’t follow as I have the Japanese version of the game!), the sprites are big and nicely drawn, and the backgrounds are packed with detail for the most part and feature nice use of colours. The only problem is the lack of variety. Despite being set in pretty diverse locations, most of the levels have a very similar feel to them. The only moment in the game where it seems like the designers are trying to mix it up a bit is the rope section where you must climb down the screen whilst attempting to see off the many foes at the same time. The same can be said for the sprites really. As you play through the six levels you will encounter new ones but a majority feature little variation besides their torso colour, although they do all explode satisfyingly when beaten!
Robot Army - SNK - Gameplay Screenshot

I guess you could say that’s the only major problem the game has – it’s very repetitive. Control over your cyborg feels a bit clunky but it’s pretty good for the most part and the music, whilst fairly average in itself, helps to keep things lively – the sound effects in particular are good, with lots of nice metallic clanging noises. None of this does much to diversify the gameplay though. Your cyborg soldiers are pretty limited as far as their repertoire of moves is concerned and considering the number of buttons available on Neo Geo systems, there’s not much excuse really. If they at least had a decent selection of attacks it might help you to overlook the repetitive levels and enemies, but alas, there are few. Robo Army is great fun when played with a friend though, and I suspect it was designed with this in mind. With a few more coats of polish this could’ve been a cracker but as it stands it’s merely average.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNhDgxZCna0[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10